Friday, November 30, 2007

I've found that I can't respond to comments

I've just realized, duh, that when readers comment on my blog posts, I don't see their email addresses, thus cannot send them a note with thanks and my responses to their comments.

If you read this and you know how to change that, please let me know. If I can fix it, I certainly will. I wonder: Do readers who submit comments realize that I get their email with a no-reply address?

They love me; they love me not

This post is for the three or four of you who wonder what it's like to make a "living" publishing your thoughts - thoughts you hope will interest, entertain or enlighten readers. Take a walk at the writer's side; here's how my week went:

Since I've been doing this blog, I've been paying attention to other people's. Many impress me - with quality of writing or acuteness of perception or design slash execution. Or all three.

I suspect that most cycling bloggers do it for free, impressing me further. Think of the time and effort invested, no charge.

Early this week, I followed a link to Dave Moulton's Bike Blog. As I wrote in a earlier post, not only does he focus on some the same aspects of cycling that I do, I fear that he expresses his thoughts more powerfully. Certainly, he writes from strength, having lived the cycling life for virtually half a century. He's the real thing for sure.

We're lucky to have a voice like his a mouse-click away. A few years ago, we had How to Ride your First Century in Bicycling Magazine every twelve issues. We had the Ten Energy Bar Shootout and chain-lube torture tests. We had race reports and EuroPro fan magazines.

Now we have individuals chatting with us about every-damn-thing, soliciting our responses and publishing our thoughts alongside their own. Many of these bloggers could sell their work, I'm sure of it, but they give it away - remarkable.

I became low-level depressed by the breadth and acuity of the thoughts expressed on Dave Moulton's blog. Then I clicked on a link on the VeloNews site and discovered an amazingly clever, insightful blog about urban cycling culture: NYCbikesnob.

The bikesnob's writing is polished, the observations perfect, the design lowkey and professional; the result is funny as hell without trying too hard. It's as if a Seinfeld writer rode a bike in the Apple and wrote a blog. I'd suspect that is precisely the case, but the blog predates the writers' strike.

By Thursday, thanks to Moulton and the bikesnob, I was feeling unworthy. Why go on, I asked myself. These other guys do it so much better...

Still in a bluish mood, I checked out the VeloNews site online, I saw that the legal writer, Bob Mionske, had submitted a column about a rally in Portland, OR. The phrase "civil disobedience" appeared in his piece - civil disobedience in reaction to what seems like worsening disregard from drivers, the courts and the popular press.

Gosh, I thought, that's right down my editorial alley...

I had just offered Ben Delaney at VeloNews two columns in a few weeks, both dealing with my obsession, car wars: Our struggle to be granted respect as road-users and simply as human beings.

I send columns to VeloNews because I have several years of history there. The magazine has national and international readership, the readers are savvy and intensely interested in the sport, and because VN pays me promptly and pretty well for stories.

VN has not been interested in car-wars stories; it's a racing paper after all. But I send those stories to Ben Delaney anyway. I like his style in email communication; he tells me if he isn't interested in a piece but I never feel that he doesn't look forward to seeing more of them.

I considered the Mionke article a change of direction for VN, a change (I hoped) in my direction. I wrote Ben Delaney, mentioning the Mionske piece and the Portland rally and the words "civil disobedience." I went on to suggest that the piece I'd just sent him focused on concerted action from us cyclists. Did the Mionske piece signal VN's intention to run more pieces like his?

And Delaney told me that VN is starting a Soapbox section and that perhaps the piece I'd sent him before the last one might be just right for it. I found that piece on my hard drive. I searched my sent emails to see if I'd offered it elsewhere. I discovered that I had not. I pasted the piece into an email and sent it to Delaney. Is that the one, I asked him.

That's it, he responded. Yours, I said.

Cool, he said. Suddenly, I forgot about Dave Moulton and the NYCbikesnob. I remembered that I'd been selling my work here and there for 20 years plus. Ben Delaney likes it. Others must like it. Perhaps the visitors to my blog like my work. Why else....?

I hope you do like my work. Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blow-Up Tires - in 2007?

My buddy Justin, whose Lighthouse bicycle, like mine, is old enough to drive, had a pair of never-used sew-up wheels hanging in his Denver basement. I saw them there and figured he'd sell them eventually at a bike swap to someone who wanted the hubs and cassette.

A month or so ago, as I described in an earlier post, I complained about frequent flat tires at Turin Bikes, near Justin's house and our apartment.

The guys raved about Stan's Sealant. As an example of how miraculously it works, they told me they ride TUFOs, a brand of sew-up tires (commonly called tubulars today) injected with Stan's.
We wear out our TUFO tires on the rims, they said, nodding their heads, noting (I'm sure) that I was skeptical. More than skeptical.

Until well into the '70s, we enthusiast cyclists rode sew-ups - on dedicated sew-up rims. In hindsight, those tires were light and supple; our bikes loved them and told us so. As lovely as they were, they were not nearly worth the trouble, but the alternatives were unattractive.

Wired-on (or clincher) tires of the era, unlike today's road tires, were heavy and clunky; the best ones made your sporting lightweight roll like an ore-cart.

Clincher rims were heavy and wide, fine for touring or commuting. Clincher tire flats were cheap and easy to fix. In every other way those tires were inappropriate and unacceptable on a nice bike, like handcuffing a mime.

"Isn't done," I was told by a British racing cyclist. Why put lead shoes on a racehorse?

Ah, but sew-ups...

A few guys claimed that sew-ups were more durable, more flat-resistant than the seemingly sturdier clincher tires of that day. Most of us doubted those claims. We had lots of sew-up flats. If you had two in a day, you hitch-hiked home. Most of us had done that, and not just once.

Maybe some people could ride a pair of sew-ups until the tread wore off. I didn't know anyone like that.

The catalogs of tire companies that made sew-ups were full of tread drawings, weights and widths, casing materials, models and suggestions for use. The cycling press waxed eloquent, page after page - about choosing, aging, preparing, mounting and fixing those accursed devices.

Somehow, wonderful as their devotees swore they were, by 1985 no one rode them. Oh, a few guys, maybe. Same guys that still use Campy sidepulls and can't see any reason to change.

Before you could ride sew-up tires, someone (you, unless you were rich) had to glue the tires to the rims. You couldn't glue them and immediately ride them. They had to set up overnight.

You carried a complete pre-glued and pre-mounted (to stretch it) spare sew-up tire folded just-so under your saddle, wrapped perhaps in an old (pre-Boulder) VeloNews.

Mounting a never-before-stretched sew-up on your rim was a job for Ah-nold. And failing to pre-glue it was an invitation to disaster. A new, never-glued tire would not adhere to the rim after you stretched it on there. It'd come off in some corner; you'd get a lift in a car to an ER.

Even so, guys would appear on training ride mornings with brand-new, still wrapped sew-up tires, folded clumsily and toe-strapped under their Cinelli Unicanitor saddles.

Pity the guy foolish enough to choose one of their wheels to follow; he might wake up in the next ER bed. What could you say to him? That you knew sure as hell that an unglued sew-up might roll off the rim, but you thought you could get away with it just this once?

The process of choosing, aging, preparing and mounting sew-ups was tiresome in the extreme - and I haven't mentioned repairing a flatted one, an ordeal from which most riders averted their eyes. Most of us had a closet floor secretly covered with flatted $35 sew-up tires, never to be resurrected. Embarrassed, we never turned on that closet light.

At $35 and an hour's work every time you flatted, cycling became an expensive way to get red stringy rim cement on your girlfriend's living room carpet. Where it would remain, long after you, you worthless bikebum, were gone.

Today, though... Today certain sew-ups are made in such a way that they are not repairable. They have inner tubes, sure enough, but you can't get the tube out to patch a hole. Not that many people did that when they could.

The tire companies probably came to realize that - and produced these new unfixable tires. They intend you to inject sealant into them; they'll fix themselves, is the idea.

You still have to cement them in several steps to specific sew-up rims. You still have to carry a complete spare tire. You still have to install that spare tire if you flat, then when you get home, remove it, refold it and properly install a new but pre-glued and pre-stretched tire onto the rim.

Justin has just had Turin Bikes glue TUFO tires onto his sew-up rims, and he's had sealant injected into the tires. He intends to ride those tires on the roads and bike paths of this Rocky Mountain community. The old-tech tires that had been stored, properly glued, on his rims will serve as spares, folded tidily under his saddle.

I would have sworn that sew-ups, like nail-on cleats, Wonder Lights and Bell Bikers, were gone and mostly forgotten. Especially sew-ups. Nothing about cycling seemed to me to represent 19th Century practice as faithfully as sew-up tires. Well, maybe nail-on cleats...

I'll keep my eye on Justin and let you know how the 19th Century fares in the 21st.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dave Moulton's bike blog...sigh...

It is with a spirit of respect and awe that I suggest checking out Dave Moulton's bike blog. Moulton, who began riding in England as a teenager, emigrated to the US and made bikes here, for himself (Moulton, Fuso etc) and for Masi in its San Diego incarnation.

I remember a bike-fit piece he contributed to VeloNews years ago, maybe around 1980; I recall being impressed by the clarity with which he presented information and his conversational style. I'm sure his words were printed as-submitted, untouched by hidden hands.

I am torn in recommending that you follow the link to Moulton's blog. I'm jealous, I guess.

Moulton talks about many of the same things that I do. He's far better equipped to write about technical aspects or cycling's history in the UK and the world. He has been a student of the sport since the latter half of the '50s, after all. He's a novelist and seemingly effortless writer.

He talks, as I mentioned, about many of the same things I do, about cars and bikes, about PIBs (People on Bikes) and cyclists, about the old and the new... I'm beyond impressed by the quality of his posts and the number of them.

If you yearn to learn about cycling from a man who has followed the sport and industry and culture for almost 50 years, I do not believe you could do better than to bookmark this link:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Blog oozes under more doors, Blob-like

As many of you know, I contribute to magazines focusing on bicycling and motorcycling. Several of those magazines graciously mention my blog on the page that carries my column.

If you have found your way here from CityBike (San Francisco Bay Area), the Bicycle Paper (Pac NW), the Bike Friday or Salvagetti Cycles web sites, Cycling Torque (Auckland, NZ) or because you saw the link scrawled on a public restroom wall, welcome to my blog.

Writing about anything, even fun things like bicycling and motorcycling, is solitary work. A few friends do read and comment on nearly everything I write before I send it off. They are my friends though - and are reluctant to say critical things that may need to be said.

You, thanks to the miracle of email and web logs, can say them!

I write this pieces, and lightweight as they may seem, I get involved in them and worry that you'll like them and that they work. Often I'm afraid that my most heartfelt pieces will not make sense to anyone who isn't sitting at my computer in my office, wearing my clothes.

So... If you read something of mine online or on a printed page, and you have some feeling about it - that it's the worst thing you've ever read, or the best thing you've read since 3:00, or you couldn't figure out what I meant by whatever it was, and if you worry about writing letters to editors - please send me a comment via this blog.

You won't have to worry about seeing your letter in print, and you can expect a personal reply. If you thought my blog post or magazine article was badly written, you may conclude that the personal reply is similarly awful. Doesn't mean I'm not grateful that you wrote.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday, 12-25, Noon

This post relates to two topics you'll recognize from my blog: my Bike Friday and Stan's Sealant.

When Tamar and I opened the boxes and assembled our new Pocket Rocket Pros nearly 18 months ago, we discovered that the tires on both bikes were Kenda Kwests, meaty-looking, 100psi road tires to suit our 451mm diameter rims: one of the two common "20-inch" sizes.

We also realized that we had no spare tubes. Tamar worked in a bike shop but it did not stock presta-valve 20" tubes. We thought, we'll risk it, and went on a couple of rides without spare tubes. On the second of those rides, I flatted.

I wrote Bike Friday about how pleased we were with our bikes, but I added a suggestion: include a tube or two to suit each bike. Add a few dollars to the price to cover the cost. Don't leave your excited new customer with no means to fix a flat on the roadside.

After 18 months of riding, I would further suggest that the nice folks at BF not sell bikes with Kenda Kwests, and not offer them through their parts and accessory sales department.

I've only had one or two minor quibbles with my Pocket Rocket - and one vexing problem: those damned tires.

I flatted again this morning, flatted my remaining Kenda Kwest. Months ago I replaced the rear Kwest after so many flats I was disgusted. Now I'm replacing the front tire for the same reason. This morning, the tire had two holes in it about an inch apart. Once you'd removed the tire and pulled out the tube, you could see light through the holes.

The Stan's Sealant blew all over the ground and the front of my bike, but could not seal the two large holes. Too much to ask of any sealant, I'd say.

If I had to put a number on it, I would say that I have dealt with 15 flats between the two Kenda tires. I have always replaced the tubes with new tubes, so it hasn't been failing patch-jobs. And no tires came off rims because of sloppy installations.

The tread cuts on the Kwests are perfectly sized to catch tiny bits of gravel. You cannot tell the trapped bits of gravel from tiny nail heads; you have to pick each bit of rock out of the tread so you can look at your tire and feel good about it. It's a nuisance.

If you own a Bike Friday with 451mm wheels and you are about to buy tires, or if you are about to buy a Bike Friday and can request this tire or that tire, please do not select Kenda Kwests. We've had nothing but good luck with our Schwalbe Stelvios...for instance.

If you read my blog and you feel that I'm wrong wrong wrong about this, and I'm unfairly damning a fine bicycle tire, send me a comment. Tell me how durable YOUR Kwests have been.

Added later: If you are interested in BFs and BF tires, the comment below, written by Bike Friday's well traveled Customer Evangelist Lynette Chaing, is well worth the reading.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Turkey!

Tamar and I are just up on Thanksgiving morning. We are appropriately happy to be here in Denver in our highrise apartment, even looking out at snowywhite rooftops. We're thankful for many things that we've found here - and "found" is the right word: We didn't know for sure that we'd like Denver and we didn't know we were going to love our neighborhood, but we lucked both cases. No kidding.

We've been here a year and a day. As I reflect on that year, I am happy with the bicycling I've done and the friends I've met through cycling. I wish I'd enjoyed the motorcycle more since we moved. Virtually the only trip I took was in late April and early May - to Bisbee AZ and Silver City NM to help out at bicycle races in the two places. Next year - big miles.

We hope you have a terrific Thanksgiving, wherever you are!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Preparation of riveted leather bicycle seats

If you have mounted a fine, handcrafted, old-world Brooks saddle on your classic bicycle, and if you intend to ride the bike so equipped, you are in luck! (Really? No.)

geoffrey (lower case "g") has sent me a link to a 30 year-old procedure for breaking-in Brooks saddles. Please, if you follow the link and read the instructions, do not soon afterward drive an automobile or defuse explosive devices; the reading may make you drowsy.

If you do attempt to read them, even if you get stalled halfway through, please study the last paragraph: It's a disclaimer from the guy who passed them along - back when.

He's Ric Hjertberg, presently the marketing and product genius at FSA. For a couple of decades, Ric owned and ran the wonderful Wheelsmith stores in and near Palo Alto. I've never met Bill Boston but I'm sure he's a great guy and credible about saddle prep and care. John Howard too.

I've never heard or read a word that came from Ric Hjertberg that wasn't considered and sage and brilliant. Here's the link:

By the way, I've spent my life around cyclists for 33 years. For 31 of those years, you could not even start a dialogue about old-school leather saddles without provoking a chorus of yawns.

Now if I respectively suggest that those saddles may have become fashion items, my email inbox overflows with protests. I was about to post something about cotton cycling caps, embroidered wool jerseys and clip 'n' strap pedals, but I've come to my senses.

All that authenticity; I must've lost my head...

Feel the Freedom!

Now and then a new rider, fresh from a motorcycle training course and aglow with enthusiasm, comes to me for advice.

"What would you tell me?" he or she will ask, handing me my pipe, brushing crumbs from my cardigan. "Give me the benefit of your years in the saddle."

I brew a pot of herbal tea and arrange a few Milano cookies on a good china plate. I fill the bowl of my pipe, tamp down the tobacco and light it. Perhaps I clear my throat. I frown. If the new rider is still there, I begin to speak.

I paint (if I may say so) a vivid picture of the Freedom we all Feel, the joy that comes with eventual mastery of the spirited machine, the sun-soaked run to glory that is motoring on two wheels. Here's what I say:

I say: Things are gonna happen that'll scare you and piss you off. They happen because car people are clueless, careless, angry, impaired or all of the above.

Let those things go. Once they're over, they're over.

See, things don't always happen one at a time. While you're fuming, gesturing or shaking your head at the last guy's stupidity, the next guy nails you. The next guy, by the way, is the first guy's kid brother, following him to Wal-Mart in the second (of the family's three) three-quarter-ton Ford pickups.

There are millions of those guys in their Fords. Unless you can afford to live in Carmel, California, and never leave that civilized village by-the-sea, you cannot escape them. And frankly, though it boasts no Wal-Mart, Carmel has hazards all its own.

Fact is, I say, one city's pretty much the same as the others, as spooky, just as demanding of our vigilance, particularly in December. There's nowhere to run.

Because your bike is not a safety capsule, not a Volvo, your survival as a rider depends on luck - oh, and on focusing your attention on what's right there in front of you. Behind and next to you too, 360 degrees. Three-eighty in December.

As Keith Code says, you only have so much attention, so much focus pie to slice, and no focus to waste. No way do you have any mental energy to spend being upset at stupid drivers. Stupid drivers are, as we agreed, a given.

What can you do? If you see one of those guys near you in his pickup, Jeep CJ or faded-paint big ol' American sedan, you can and should get away from him. Switch to a different lane and give other drivers a shot at you. You might be safer. Who can say?

It is helpful to be aware that there are certain cars typically owned by guys who cannot drive (Volvos, Saturns) and others that attract viciously aggressive guys (Cherokees, Camrys, BMWs), but your hard-earned awareness is no shield. It won't work every time like the legendary cross that repels the vampire.

Don't assume that the guy in the lowered Accord with the Kawasaki sticker in the window is your friend. Don't assume anyone in a vehicle with doors is your friend. If you see your minister, rabbi or priest on the road, wave but keep an empty lane between you. You want to go to heaven, but not today.

As wary as you are normally, ride twice as scared at bridge tollbooths, near convenience stores and in school zones. Why?

The road surface next to the tollbooth is treacherous slick. Sometimes it's too slick for your boot sole to find traction. Your foot slips, you're down in an instant, you need help to get back up, and the horns are going in a microsecond.

At the 7-Eleven? No one decides if they're gonna stop at a 7-Eleven until the last second, so no one has time to signal or brake gradually. Gas pumps in front of the store? Worse yet. Who realizes they're low on fuel until the little panic light comes on?

And school zones? Traffic laws do not apply in school zones. Laws of physics do not apply in school zones. Human kindness cannot survive in school zones.

Better to be a gunpoint hostage in a passenger aircraft losing altitude and streaming fuel than to ride absentmindedly, 15mph through a school zone. Guys with bombs or box knives will have more mercy than those soccer moms.

Perhaps (I say, only half serious) we should be bombing the suburbs rather than middle-Eastern targets. More terrorists per square mile in the ‘burbs. Target Land Rovers and mommy vans; Never waste a bomb. But enough fantasy...

Don’t trust eye contact, I say.

Eye contact with a driver who COULD pull out or turn across your path is NOT a guarantee he won't do just that. Probably he'll look right at you and do it. It’s not his fault, really: He's legally blind. He can't see you in your Hi-Viz Lime Yellow Aerostich jacket, your high-beam blazing right in front of him.

Now, because your motorcycle is stuck under his car, he'll be late getting to Wal-Mart - IF the cops let him drive away from the scene with no license or proof of insurance. What a hassle for him. He'll still be there, tapping his cane, long after the EMTs have taken you, lights and siren, to the trauma center.

Here’s what I say about taking care of motorcycles: Keep oil in the crankcase and the right air pressure in the tires. You depend on the machine to keep you upright. You depend on its controllability, especially when you're a green rider yourself, not controlling it any too elegantly.

Do your own work when you feel competent doing so; Let someone else do jobs that scare you. When you're working on your bike, avoid interruptions. You need to concentrate, to keep your mind on the task at hand.

Don't think that after a month of riding, you've mastered this motorcycle thing. Precisely half of us riders are below average in skill. In your first year or so on the bike you almost certainly fit in that category.

That's not an insult, it's a statistical truth. We're not, all of us, good at everything we try. I hope you become a proficient motorcyclist, but if you don’t, I hope you stay healthy until you lose interest, or your insurance company refuses coverage, or your family intervenes.

I wish you years of happy riding, I say, and suggest that each of those years is the result of millions of cool-headed, sober, correct decisions. Now, get out there and Feel the Freedom. Or stay here out of the rain and have another Milano.


November 21st

Today is Tamar's and my one-year anniversary in Denver. A year ago, we pulled our rental truck 'n' trailer into the alley behind the Denver University district apartment complex Tamar found via Craigslist. We'd spent two and a half days on I-10 and I-25 getting here.

We've never, even in last winter's endless ice and snow, regretted our decision. I've actually been enjoying riding my bike...and I'm fitter than I've been in years, I think. I'm not fierce fit, not raging, man-eating fit, but I'm okay fit, I'm happy to say.

When I began this blog after years of encouragement from friends, I was not sure if anyone would read it outside our home. As links to it pop up here and there, and as more of our far-flung friends discover it from the little notice at the bottom of my emails, I'm starting to get comments and emails relating to items I've posted. It's gratifying and it's always a surprise.

Thank you all. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving; it's appropriate to feel grateful at this time o' year. Tamar and I are grateful for our friends here in Denver and around the country and the world. We're grateful that we found our way here and we can ride here with a feeling of relative safety.

Tamar loves her job with the Denver Public Library. I love the bike paths and our Capitol Hill neighborhood and comments you post on my blog. I even love Brooks saddles; I'm told that they will adapt to the shape of one's bottom. In time. Maybe.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

November 20th

Because I've only been blogging for a couple of weeks, I'm conflicted as to how to go about it. I am torn between:
1. Posting something to my blog each day, no matter how trivial the post may seem, so that frequent visitors to my blog will not be entirely disappointed.
2. Trying to create with each post a minor masterpiece of thoughtfulness and expression.

Probably as time passes I will strike a balance between boring and brilliant, probably slanted in the direction of boring. Wish me luck.

Riding yesterday on the Cherry Creek trail near CC Park, I was passed by a raggedy three-guy pace line. I'd seen them coming and noted that it took a good while for them to catch me, aerodynamic advantage or not. When they did pass, only one of the three said hi.

Just in front of me, I saw that one of the guys had been dropped by the other two at the base of a long but not steep climb.

I picked up my pace just a little and caught the guy, passed him and moved over in front of him, offering to share the work of riding him back up to his pals. He looked like a rider but he was either fried or unwilling to get on my wheel, so my gesture came to nothing.

Near the entrance to the park, the two guys in front of me stopped alongside the trail. I went ahead and got on the (flattish) park road. As I was riding alone through the park the three guys passed me. Suddenly, a hand patted me on the butt! It was Nelson Vails, trying to coach the three guys, who admitted that they had never before ridden in a pace line.

Nelson told me he'd seen them on the bike trail. They'd passed him, beating each other up in big gears. Nelson pedaled up to them in the small chain ring and told them that they were riding in an unproductive manner - that they should spend the winter riding in small gears, learning to pedal, not trying to murder each other.

They nodded, their eyes on Nelson, just as if they could hear him.

We rode back to town with the three of them. One flatted about halfway back. Nelson helped him change the punctured tube.

Nelson suggested that the guy not turn his bike over and work on it while it rested on its bars, cyclometer and seat. He showed the guy how to put his bike in the smallest cog before removing the wheel from the frame. He even gave the guy a CO2 cartridge to pump up the tire.

As we got closer to central Denver, where the path gets twisty and busy and dangerous, the three guys rode away from us, evidently having never heard a word Nelson said.

We felt that they rode too fast for conditions on the busy, sketchy multi-use trail. We felt they rode as if they were racing. Both those errors could be called youthful exuberance.

Most significantly, we felt they were rude, riding off from a guy who'd tried in several unselfish ways to help them, a guy who's an old hand at something that is new to them. A guy who could've, if he'd wanted to, pedaled away from them.

Can't teach guys about that stuff on the bike trail. Too late. By the time they can afford to buy the racing bike and the Europro jersey, they've learned all the life lessons they're going to learn.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wednesdays with Maynard - an interview

Here's a link to an interview of me done by my friend Brendan Leonard. My comments are interspersed here and there - and underlined. If you are at all interested in me or if your life is a featureless Nebraskascape of boredom, it's probably worth your while to read. I'd say Enjoy, but that's probably building it up too much. Brendan, who did a great job, should've interviewed himself - a suitably provocative subject.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bike Trail Safety, Military Intelligence, Jumbo Shrimp

I ran into Nelson Vails on the Cherry Creek bike trail last week. I'd heard that he lives here and works for an airline, but I hadn't seen him. We talked for a few minutes just off the trail, then rode back into central Denver together.

Vails, who was called the Cheetah, raced the track and flat, short road races. He represented the US at the Olympics and at world championship events. A big, heavily muscled man, he was a pro track sprinter, a specialist in short, fierce bursts of explosive acceleration - zero to 40mph in an instant.

Spectacular as a rider and fun to be around as a guy, ex-NYC bike courier Vails raced all over the world and was welcomed and respected all over the world. Jeez, could that guy ride his bike.

Vails told me that, not long ago, he'd been crashed on the Cherry Creek bike trail. He'd been on that trail not far from the Confluence (where Cherry Creek meets the South Platte River). As an oncoming cyclist (on his tri-bars and far from his brake levers) was about to pass a blind intersecting ramp, a runner appeared suddenly across his path.

Evidently, she and the cyclist independently assumed no one was approaching.

The cyclist hit her; both fell down. She and the cyclist slid into Vails' path. All three hit the ground. No one needed an ambulance or an ER, but it must have been some collision - to have knocked Nelson Vails off his bike.

It's easy to feel secure and get sloppy about safety on our terrific Denver bike trails. But if we can't see ahead, we can't conclude there's no one coming at us. As everyone knows, the trails are super busy on weekends and the average skill level of trail users drops.

Going fast on our bikes on Denver's trails is foolish and tempts fate anytime, but on weekends...

We do not want to knock Nelson Vails off his bike because we felt Lance-like on the bike trail. It could, in a flash, ruin an otherwise lovely day. Merely watching the Cheetah rise up and glare at you would suffice. 'Nuff said?

The Further Adventures of Stan's Sealant

Not long ago, I wrote about my three-flat-tire day and how disgusted I became. I told you that I was advised to use Stan's Sealant in my inner tubes. As you read, I had Stan's injected into both my Bike Friday's odd-looking 20" diameter wheels, and since then I have not had a flat tire.

I was reluctant to write about that good luck, because I could not be sure that (a) I had a puncture and the Stan's sealed it or (b) I hadn't had a puncture at all.

Just yesterday however, I discovered spots of Stan's on the back end of my bicycle: on the back of the seat tube, on the chainstay-mounted rear brake caliper and on the pivoting parts of the frame that are particular to a folding Bike Friday.

Evidently, I did have a puncture. A bit of the Stan's spewed out the tiny hole and then sealed it - so that I did not know the puncture had happened. I lost a portion of the air pressure but not enough so I noticed any softness of the tire. The residue of Stan's on the bike came off with a little diluted Simple Green.

So far, so good. No, SO good.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Have you checked out

Until a couple of years ago, I did not follow motorcycle racing at any level. I couldn't tell you the difference between Superbikes, Supersport bikes and MotoGP bikes. After repeated urging by my friend Jim Widner in Bisbee, Arizona, I am now a confirmed fan of MotoGP racing: the Formula One of motorcycle racing, the most exciting motorcycle road racing in the world.

Some time after becoming a MotoGP fan, I discovered a web site called Superbike Planet. I rely on Superbike Planet for pre- and post-race comments from the riders and team staffs, for photos from the race venues (With captions that are laugh-out-loud witty. Tell me; when last did YOU laugh at a photo caption?), race descriptions from various sources, polls about every damn thing related to the three or four most visible classes of bikes...

Probably, if you're a motorcycle racing fan, none of this is news to you and you're already a habitual viewer of SB's content. If you are a motorcycle racing fan, and you have not found Superbike Planet, please....waste no more time on my blog - go directly to:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

November 15th

Luckily, I got into the Boulder Theatre, just off the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, last night for the sold-out Slipstream-Chipotle presented by H3O pro cycling team announcement. A cable channel filmed the sold-out affair so you'll be seeing it soon - and rumor has it that you may see some sort of reality show focusing on the team.

It's a big team and a big organization. When the team and staff were assembled on the theatre stage, they filled it. More than 50 people, I'd guess, and from all over the world. Two mechanics from the Basque County, another from Fort Collins, riders from Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Ireland, England, France, San Luis Obispo, Boulder... I'm sure I'm forgetting several.

I've been to a few of these team introductions, and each time the riders and staff tell you how well everyone is getting along and how bonding is already happening. The same things were said by several of the guys last night, and I gotta say, I believed it. A few of the riders, those who've come from "hardened European pro teams," seemed genuinely relieved and delighted to be based here in the US and riding with this Slipstream bunch. They did appear to be having fun.

And they claim that they'd love to get results, to win races, but that having fun is vital. Many of the riders (staff too) have been beaten down by the traveling circus aspect and the pressure to excel that they've developed allergies to the Europro ratrace. Let's work hard but chill a bit, and see if we don't get to slip into lots of cool celebratory jerseys. Without doping.

David Millar appears to be a serious-minded, sincere guy with a quiet funny streak. Magnus Backstedt is laugh out loud funny and speaks English as well as your college Creative Writing instructor. Dave Zabriskie bounces everything he says off some wall, like a complex pool shot. Christian Vande Velde and Julian Dean, seasoned veterans by now of the Euro wars, seemed happy to be where they are - on a smoothly run, international, clean, green, mean racing team.

The auction, to raise money to support the Davis Phinney Foundation, saw people bidding on dates with a couple of the riders, a full set of team clothing including shoes, a Felt team bike build in series with the riders' bikes, full DuraAce, Fizik, Zipp, fine bike, custom for you, a day at the Fort Collins wind tunnel with a rider or two, two leader's jerseys, one from Paris-Nice, the other from the Tour de France, that brought dizzying prices, two Giro helmets... Cool stuff.

I felt yet again that Boulder-Denver is the center of highlevel cycling in the US. Tamar and I did not know how much we'd like it here, just as we did not know when we moved to Capitol Hill, how much we'd like our new neighborhood.

Now, the most promising US pro team is based within walking distance of our home. I have known some of the riders over the years, and some of the staff. I feel confident that this team will represent us well and make us proud. Go Slipstream-Chipotle presented by H3O!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Paying for Breakfast

Shortly after Tamar and I moved to Denver, we discovered a cool little bike shop, Salvagetti Cycles, that advertised Sunday morning breakfast rides. We'd never ridden in snow, so we used the light rail train to reach the shop the first time; Scott loaned us bikes for the short, chilly ride to and from breakfast.

We've been doing those rides almost a year now, and they have, no kidding, changed our lives.

Tamar found her hair cutter from someone on the ride. We learned of what is now our high rise home from someone on the ride. We were shown (and told of) numbers of great places to eat - on the ride. We made lots of friends on the ride, more friends than we made in five years where we used to live. We learned about urban, transportation cycling and the mindsets of folks who do it.

One local custom surprised us, and surprised our friend Justin when we invited him to do the ride with us. If you see this happen regularly, write me through the Comment function and let me know.

We'll have, say, seven people seated around the table finishing breakfast. The bill arrives. Each person calculates his or her portion of the bill and tip. Each person either puts cash on the table or...writes his name and the amount he owes on the back of the bill. He puts a credit card on top of the pile of bill and cards and cash. Might be five cards in the pile.

The waitperson picks up the pile and goes off to charge the stipulated amount to each of the cards. This appears to be normal and accepted at each of the various places we frequent for breakfast.

Let me know... Do they do this where you live?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Here a Brooks, There a Brooks...

I have a Rivendell-framed bicycle, blue and graceful and beautiful. I am proud of my Rivendell and of my friendship, 20 years old now, with Grant Petersen, the man behind the brand.

Occasionally, I am surprised by my fellow Rivendellers, owners of the various brands of bikes conceived by, designed by and made for the company. I admit I become afraid that they are owners, not riders. Often it's a hunch based on flimsy evidence and my cynicism.

This time, I followed a link on the Rivendell site to Flickr, to a page featuring photos of hundreds of Rivendells and Salukis and A. Homer Hilsens and Gloriouses and Willburys and Bleriots and...I can't recall all the models.

Visible and identifiable in fully nine out of 10 of the photos (of bikes owned by hundreds of individuals) were Brooks saddles. Old-fashioned, pricey, heavy, leather-with-rivets Brooks saddles. Saddles that 10 years ago were considered as ancient as rotary phones, too heavy for fishing sinkers, too easy to ruin in wet weather and too painful to endure.

Even Grant, who sells certain Brooks saddle models, will not claim that those seats are for everyone. Some people, a few, will find them comfortable enough to put up with the weight, expense and hassle. Not most people; not even half the people. Some people.

But nearly all the proud people who posted photos of their Rivendell bicycles on Flickr have chosen Brooks saddles. Isn't that strange? Can they all, as my friend Corey suggests, have the same ass?

We touch our bicycles in five places: both feet, both hands and our butts. Lots of riders have trouble with their feet and hands, but saddle problems far outnumber other cycling afflictions. Saddles, therefore, are an industry. Saddle developments are reported in the papers. New systems of saddle fitting are announced almost daily. Some may help. Who knows.

It's a mystery, saddle fitting; there are no rules. No one can tell you what saddle you should buy. There is no "perfect" seat. There are only dozens or hundreds of models to choose from.

Most good bike stores will loan you one to try. Maybe they'll loan you five at a time; if you find one you like, you return four and buy the one. Maybe none of the five will work. It's that personal and individual.

Somehow, despite all this mystery and multiplicity of choices, a staggering number of Rivendell owners choose the Brooks saddle, as far from the saddle mainstream as a saddle can get.

"Let's buy Brooks saddles. Let's not even try the hundreds of saddle models offered in ordinary storefront bike shops. Let's ride a Brooks. Hey, it'll be comfortable. And it's old-school, authentic and cool-looking! Perfect for our timeless Rivendells."

All those people, all over the country, bending over on the bike, sitting up on the bike, sitting too high, sitting too low, riding in cycling shorts, riding in jeans, riding in chain mail. Thin people, fat people, fast riders, slow riders...all riding the same saddle. Improbable, huh?

Maybe any saddle will do if you merely look at your bike and don't sit on it much. Or if you ride it to the Daily Grind one morning a week to read the Sunday NY Times.

That's not a kind observation, but it's what occured to me when I saw the hundreds of similarly saddled Rivendells on the Flickr page. Check out any group of seasoned bike riders, racers or commuters or tourists. No two saddles the same.

To think the best of all those Brooks folks, let's imagine that, sure enough, they all have the same ass. I'm sure that's the secret. Corey's right.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Risk? What Risk?

I wrote yesterday about the unusually high component of nervy, risk-loving individuals who ride bicycles, not all racers by any means. I'd never thought about that, but it certainly makes sense: cycling in US cities is not for the faint of heart.

As I walked down Washington Street here on Capitol Hill last night, I was reminded of that prevalence. Washington is two lanes, one-way, not brightly street-lighted and downhill between Eighth and Sixth. Traffic moves faster than is prudent, I'd say, faster than the (realistic) posted limit.

I saw, not for the first time, a cyclist on a single-speed or fixed gear bike, a converted racing road bike, flying down that hill. You could see that he was wearing hipster garb: dark-colored knickers, a dark-colored sweater and a dingy white cotton, short-billed cycling cap.

You could not see if the bike had a brake at either end. You could see that the bike had no reflectors or reflective tape or blinky lights - no nods toward making bike and rider visible.

You knew you were looking at a bike that had been assembled from a box of cool old parts and a iconic frame. Nothing unstudied about the bike or the rider's clothing. No expense spared in the pursuit of cool-dude conspicuity.

I believe I'd have spent the $19.95 for the tiny red flashing taillight that could make all the difference on nighttime city streets. The little light is not as cool, perhaps, as those old Campagnolo cranks, though...or that Brooks saddle...

When those cranks and that frame were new, bike lights were dim, clunky, ugly and unreliable. Today, they're bright, unobtrusive and dependable. I think they're cool. I feel the same way about brakes...and helmets. I like 'em.

Opinions vary, evidently.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Which would you prefer on a dark street, to be enlightened by activist statistics - or a blinky taillight?

My friend Brendan emailed me a link to a well executed piece about cycling safety. It was written by a father who'd been shocked by a near-miss in traffic and minor injuries suffered by his bike-rider son. The father investigated the danger of cycling relative to the dangers of other pursuits - and relative to the health and longevity benefits we'd like to think we derive.

Much of the article focused on cycling's accident and injury record, compiled by various means in various places. Those parts of the piece were interesting but not life-changing. We're probably not going to believe anyone who tells us that our experience on the streets is invalid and that if we only look at it THEIR way, we'll see that there's no danger at all: those hulking GMCs are our friends.

The couple of paragraphs that put the glowing lightbulb over MY head were these:

...because of the widespread perception that cycling is dangerous, the existing population of cyclists may be disproportionately made up of risk-takers. If everyone thinks biking is unsafe, the people who do it will be the ones who don't mind danger. And such people are more likely to get hurt in just about any activity.

In his 2004 book The Art of Urban Cycling, Robert Hurst cites evidence that as many as half of car-bike crashes are the cyclist's fault: the cyclist ran a stop sign, made an illegal turn, rode against traffic, or otherwise broke the law.

What this means is that if you're a cautious, law-abiding, risk-averse cyclist, biking is far safer than you'd think from the aggregate statistics, which are inflated by the proliferation of two-wheeling daredevils.

Hey, I'm law-abiding and risk-averse... I don't blow through lights at 20mph; I don't jump on and off of the sidewalk, frightening pedestrians; I don't ride the wrong way on one-way streets...

If it's so safe out there, if those of us whose riding could be called geriatric and defensive are so statistically unlikely to be hit, why does it feel so scary on the streets of this Great Nation?

What kind of place is this? We're sending our sons and daughters halfway around the world to fight over oil, but if we choose not to drive, we're scared off the streets by those who do...

Here's the link to the article:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

This...'n' that...

A few weeks ago, in (goat's head) thorn season here in Denver, I got two flats on a 30-mile bike ride, then discovered the next morning that I'd had three. I got (unfairly) disgusted with my Bike Friday and its 20-inch, seemingly vulnerable tires.

I ride clunky, heavy, armor-plated Specialized Armadillo tires on my big-wheel bikes but, alas, you can't buy them in Friday sizes.

I went to nearby Turin Bikes and complained about flats, stinking flats. The guys there told me that they get away (even in thorn season) with riding ultra-light, ultra-fragile tubular tires, sew-ups as we used to call them, by injecting them with a sealant called Stan's.

Stan's is intended for the new tubeless mountain bike tires, but it seems to work miracles of flat-proofing in TUFO tubulars - new-tech, old-school tires that aren't "fixable" and must be injected with sealer through a presta valve with a removable tip.

In thirty years of riding, I'd never tried sealant, and I confess I felt it was ineffective and dorky, a rabbit's foot for people who could not fix a flat. Was I right? Maybe.

This new stuff, I'm told, is a thinner liquid; it does not clump up and cause wheel imbalances. How does it work? You pull the thorn out of your tire and keep riding. Though not necessarily recommended by the manufacturer for tubed road tires, it seems to far.

If it does work, it will allow us to ride lighter, better-riding, more responsive tires - and not get nearly so many flats. I sure hope it works. I'll let you know.

AND: I read articles about the bicycle-friendliness of this city or that one; the articles mention awards given to cities by some board of bike-friendliness experts.

I remember the southwestern city where Tamar and I lived not long ago. It was a gold-medal city, a marvel of bike-friendliness - according to those sage evaluators.

As I mentioned above, I've been riding for 30-plus years. I had never hung up my bike while uninjured except in that city. I feel that cycling there, despite the undoubted health and longevity benefits, was not good for me. The emotional toll outweighed any physical gains.

Who knows how these things are decided, which city will emerge with a gold or platinum (only Davis, California) and which will wear a lead medallion. We cannot trust the numbered lists of "Best Small Cities to Retire To" or "Most Walkable Cities." Too many seem to be in Arkansas or ultra-expensive Santa Barbara County. Or the judges rave about Las Vegas. Not credible.

We suspect, Tamar and I, that many of these bike-friendliness determinations are made over expensive dinners in exclusive restaurants. The chats do not include input from the rider-in-the-street, whose opinion, we fear, carries all the weight of the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election.

I love off-street bike trails. I am sure that the more the city or town forces you to ride with motor vehicle traffic, the less bicycle-friendly it is. Riding with traffic mile after mile is scary today and mentally poisonous over time.

We love Denver's bike trail network. We can ride a big loop or ride to destinations all over the city and 'burbs. From the bike trails, you can hear traffic on the streets - sirens and honking horns, screeching brakes and occasional crashes. Priests and rabbis cursing the mental health caregivers who just cut them off.

You want to buy beers for the guys who built and maintain the trails. They enable you to ride in peace, safety and calmness - a feeling your motorist neighbors will stubbornly deny you.

AND, finally: Tamar and I attended Scott Moninger's retirement party in Boulder a few days ago. We were thrilled, I'd say, to be present in that restaurant, Tokyo Joe's, with maybe 75 people whose love for cycling and involvement in the sport has spanned decades.

As you may know, Scott Moninger lived through a suspension of his racing license after unknowingly ingesting a tainted sports supplement. Do I believe Scott cheated? I flat do not. There's nothing devious or desperate about him. He's a master tactician and an artist of the minimal, perfectly timed move. He'll be a great asset to his new team as a manager.

As we were about to leave Tokyo Joe's, I recognized a racer I hadn't seen for a few years. I've missed him and his soft-spoken, gentle style, and the feeling I get from him that what he says is what he feels. No coyness, no agenda. Tamar and I talked with him for a few moments and said our goodbyes. What a great guy, I thought.

Tamar could not get over how sweet the fellow was, and how nice he was to say good things about me. Who is that guy, she asked. He sure looks familiar. That was Tyler Hamilton, I said, one of the nicest guys I've met around racing or anywhere. Wow, she said... that was Tyler...

Scott, Tyler...and Floyd. Something's going on here, as the fellow said, and we don't know what it is. Do we?

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Story

All the years I've been riding motorcycles, folks have been telling me horror stories. Not stories plural, really: A story. The Story.

I hear The Story from all kinds of people, everywhere I go. They come at me in gas stations and at cafe cash registers and motel desks, anywhere I'm standing with my helmet in my hand. The Story's always the same: Something horrible happened to someone they know (or know OF) because of some damn motorcycle.

Their brother (cousin, buddy, minister) lost his or her (limb, memory, girlfriend) in a fiery crash that wasn't the brother's (etc.) fault. An inattentive motorist turned left in front of the brother, cousin, buddy or minister as that blameless soul rode to the local shelter to deliver a hot meal to the homeless.

The accident is always serious, always crippling to the rider. It is never the rider's fault. What you take away from hearing The Story is that such tragedies are inevitable. If you ride, innocent and careful though you may be, you will be hurt. Bad.

I'm used to hearing The Story. I've heard it 1,000 times. So has every other veteran motorcyclist.

I don't expect a version of The Story from bicyclists, and I REALLY don't expect to hear anything like it in bicycle shops from bicycle salespeople. Why turn people off to cycling, when cycling is your livelihood? When cycling is what you have to sell...

I'm in this shop. The owner begins to tell me The Story, the cycling equivalent of the blameless brother story. It's about a confrontation between a driver and a cyclist. It's pretty much the same every time.

The shop owner's Story was as long and detailed as a Russian novel or Shakespeare play. It had fewer characters but was just as heavily laden with overheated emotion and fatal character flaws.

There was the driver who came close to the cyclists, and the passenger who threw something at the cyclists. There was the inevitable red light just ahead and the volatile but strangely calm conversation at that light, the explosion that might have happened but didn't.

You've heard 1,000 such stories if you've been riding since the first of the year.

About a third of the way through his Story, meaning what seemed to be about 45 minutes into it, a woman walked into the store and approached us, the store owner and me. She wants help, I thought.

But no help was forthcoming: Two-thirds of the never-ending Story remained to be told. So the woman stood there, three feet from the store owner, while he described the cyclist's macho posturing, the driver's macho posturing, the same-old confrontational clich├ęs...It was awful.

She stood there; I fidgeted and wished I were anywhere else. I thought: What if she's here to see about a road bike for her kid?

The story makes the roads here in small-town northern Cal sound like battle-lines in war-torn Bosnia. She may imagine soldiers in net-covered helmets scanning the horizon through the tinted glass of their Chevys, ready to pounce on small, vulnerable groups of cyclists.

Is she wondering what items drivers will throw at her son or daughter? Will there be a face-off with some motorist every ride? Is she wishing she'd signed the kid up for martial arts classes instead of viola lessons?

Eventually, the story wound to its predictable conclusion: The clever cyclist made the angry driver feel foolish for about five seconds. That particular five seconds of embarrassment has been recreated in song and story God-knows how many times over the 15 years since it happened.

That Story's been told as often as the one about the fall of Troy. Oh. You may know a similar Story you tell now and then. Please remember how I hated listening to this guy's Story. Resist inflicting your Story on others. Thank you.

While he told me The Story, the shop owner did not, could not, meet the eyes of the one person in the store who mattered: the woman customer.

If he HAD met her eyes, she might have caused him to pause in his Story-telling. She might have asked him a question or expressed a need he'd have to deal with. Maybe she wanted to buy something.

Any experiment with customer service, no matter how brief, would have interrupted the damn story. Unthinkable.

I promise: I did not make any of that up. Happened just as I described in a shop not far away. Probably happens where you live.

As I said, you hear the motorcycle story everywhere, too, but you DO NOT hear it in shops, told by people who sell or service or in whatever-way make their living from motorcycles. Folks who LIKE motorcycles and believe they are fun and safe and life-enhancing don't tell The Story.

Why in the world would a bike business person tell such a similarly poisonous story, especially with a customer listening? Baffles me.

We just don't "get" customer service in the bike biz, don't understand it. We're too self-involved. We're caught up in our own Stories, in our own definitions of cool. We are too quick to make judgments about strangers, and to treat them by standards we hated when we were green and they were applied to us.

We're almost never in the moment, standing there on the shop floor doing our jobs, doing what's right for cycling, asking the nice folks what we can do for them.

Three Hundred Days into the Year...

An email sent just last week...

Hi Larry, Hi Andy.

No, you guys have not met. But you may be aware of one another. Larry lives in Iowa. He runs CycleItalia, taking folks on epicurean bicycle tours in Italy. Andy, from Duluth, runs Aerostich Rider Wearhouse and outfits discriminating motorcyclists internationally. He takes folks to exotic locales for motorcycle tours.

Correct me if I'm wrong: You guys live in adjacent states. Today, against incalculable odds, both of you sent me the only two pins I have rec'd in 2007.

Andy sent me an enameled pin with an image of a Honda like mine, a little British-style classic single. Larry send me a button with a drawing of a bicycle, and the slogan $0 per gallon.

Both of you included remarkably similar short notes, saying that when you saw the pin you thought of me. I'm pleased and gratified by the pins and the thoughtfulness behind sending them.

I am amazed that they arrived on the same day from two guys in northern Midwestern states that share a border. Thanks, guys!

Warmest Regards from Denver Maynard

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Disease Riders

Written a few years ago just after the annual November El Tour de Tucson, this piece made the good folks who train Team in Training uncomfortable and defensive. In theory, those riders are taught exhaustively about road safety and pack etiquette. In practice...

Don't get me wrong. I admire the thousands of cyclists who collect pledges and attempt long, hard charity rides. I think it's great that people use cycling and other athletic events to raise awareness and money to combat disease.

Many of these people do 100-mile rides after decades of smoking, drinking and TV-watching - and five non-consecutive weekends of training. They're examples to us all.

Not only do they get out and get themselves into shape, they help countless others. They support medical research. They keep many annual charity rides alive. They support the bicycle industry. They are the salt of the cycling earth.

They scare the s--t outta me.

No Sigourney Weaver film frightened me the way a "pack" of disease riders can. In the theater, no matter how afraid I am, I know it's just a movie. On the road, stuck in or behind a gaggle of disease riders, I know the danger is real.

Let's say I'm 65 miles into a 100-mile charity ride. I'm sharing the road with hundreds of bicyclists. It's a narrow road, or merely a single lane set off by a row of orange cones.

In the coned-off lane, I'm rolling at a conversational pace, a typical pace for a fit cyclist who’s not on a mission. I'm catching a cluster of people in disease rider jerseys going somewhat slower - not quite two-thirds my speed.

You can read their home states on their jerseys. They’ve come from all over. You're aware that they've raised money for a worthy cause and conquered their personal fears of tough physical challenges. They're here to celebrate those victories. They deserve our congratulations.

I admire these people. I'm petrified of them.

I have to pass them; Jeez, they're going 11 mph. Spread completely across our narrow path, they're laughing and chatting, unaware I'm behind them. They’re oblivious. I have to ask them to move over so I can pass.

I wait for the right moment to request passing clearance on the left side of the group. Surprising them is not a good idea. Anything might happen.

Eventually I ask. Though I speak in an unthreatening tone, I watch the group wobble and weave in the road. I pray no one locks bars with his buddy; no one brakes suddenly; no one screams and freaks and takes down Western Civilization.

I pass that group safely. I feel relieved, but my relief is short-lived. There's another group just like it up the road, as sure as patch glue dries in the tube.

Danger pedals with the disease riders, I think. A chill runs through me. There's no hospital for miles, but I smell antiseptic. Smells like Urgent Care out here.

Don't get me wrong. I'd never want to discourage even one of those fine people from collecting pledges, attending training sessions and coming to Tucson for the big ride, the big finishing medal and the big feeling of accomplishment.

But I wonder: Has anyone mentioned to them that there will be OTHER people on the ride? Has someone suggested that some of the other people will be faster and some slower? Has anyone told them that the road will not be exclusively theirs, and that they should devote a tiny bit of attention to safety?

Evidently, no one has so much as whispered the word safety to the hundreds of disease riders we welcome here every November.

Their trainers teach them about eating and drinking. They learn about pedaling cadence. Surely someone on their training staff could introduce the idea of safety. It's a foreign concept for sure, startling, but worthwhile, huh?

Someone should mention that it's good to be aware of what's going on around you. Someone should mention that it's good to look behind you once in a while, good to practice looking back over your shoulder without veering across the lane. Someone could be gaining on you.

Someone should mention that if you aren't (honestly) going very fast, you might want to stay to the right so people can pass you without watching their lives flash before their eyes.

Someone should mention that creating a lane-wide rolling roadblock is not all that courteous or safe. And that while your group is having fun bonding, doing the brave, hard thing together, others are cycling that narrow road too.

If you (in your joy, fraternity and disregard for safety) contribute somehow to one or more of them crashing, those real people may sit rocking slightly on the road, hugging themselves around their knees and bleeding.

It's great to raise all that money. It's great to come to Tucson or wherever and do the long, challenging ride. It's great to hang with new and old friends, good folks from everywhere America who've done the same unselfish good things.

Those are great things, but they're not the ONLY things.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Yes, We Have That in Stock...

As I write this, Australian Casey Stoner is the fastest in practice for Sunday's last MotoGP event of the season at Valencia, Spain. Stoner has already clinched the world championship for himself and the manufacturer's championship for his sponsor, Ducati.

Ducati is the David among Goliaths at the races. Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki are giant companies and must have huge racing budgets. Somehow, though the other outfits have tried fiercely and expensively to beat them, a Ducati has consistently been the fastest bike at the races.

Years ago, when I craved "connoisseur" motorcycles, Italian bikes seduced me. Ownership of a few and observation of dozens dulled their luster. Certain problems appeared to be chronic among all the Italian brands, electrical problems especially. Kinda soured me.

The last few years, as computers have perfected design and manufacture, and as Japanese electrical parts have become nearly universal the world around, I have caught myself yearning again for a spirited Italian thoroughbred.

Tamar has one. It's a Piaggio scooter, a four-year-old LT150, a big-wheel model that has been rugged and nearly trouble free. Nearly. Last night as she left work, her Piaggio stopped running on University Boulevard here in Denver. Tamar had her suspicions about why it stopped, and she was right.

This afternoon, I replaced nearly the only remaining original handlebar switch, this one the on/off rocker "kill switch" on the right handlebar. The part was cheap and installing it was easy.

The same things could be said about the turn signal switch across the bar, and the starter button. I've replaced both. And a headlight bulb. It was cheap but installing it was a chore. The bulb expired because the voltage regulator failed. It was cheap neither in purchase price or labor cost for diagnosis and installation.

Tamar loves her scooter. It really is a fine product, easy and rewarding to ride, great looking... Hey, it's Italian.

If you believe, as I did, that today's Italian mechanical products are as reliable and appliance-like as Japanese items, I'd suggest that you ask your Ducati, Vespa, MotoGuzzi or Aprilia dealer if they have a kill switch in stock - or if they have to order one for you.

Remember, they don't like to stock slow-moving items. If it doesn't sell in a few months, they won't reorder it. If existing kill switches seldom fail, they will not stock new ones.

So when they tell you that, yes, we do have one of those on hand...

If Casey Stoner's remarkable success on an Italian motorcycle delights you, and you love the way they look and work and make you feel, please don't let me discourage you from owning one.

Maybe the Italian motorcycle companies care primarily about building fast, gorgeous, sexy bikes and scooters, and not so much about making or sourcing durable electrical components.

So if you hate niggling problems and the occasional surprise minor failure, I'd look elsewhere.

All that said, if Tamar bought another scooter tomorrow, she'd go for the limited-edition Vespa 250 with the headlight mounted '50s-style on the front fender. Lovely...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Go For It!

I know you've dreamed of a life like mine. You'd like to travel the world, ride other people's motorcycles, hang out with your heroes and tell hotties in cafes you're a writer. I do it. You can do it. It's easy.

Yes. You too can find joy and make big money writing for motorcycling web sites and magazines -- your dreams come true.

About those writing dreams: Do not talk about them. Your listeners have their own shining dreams; They cherish the time they spend polishing them. Instead, write something. Then try to sell what you wrote.

Thousands of motorcyclists yearn to write. Hundreds would love to write about the riding or the life. Seventeen will actually sit down and write. They're (duh) the ones who'll get published. You can be one of them.

As someone said, Aristotle or Sting, I get 'em confused: Go for it.

To prepare, I suggest journalism classes and a trust fund. The classes will provide you with writing tools. The trust fund income will sustain you as you climb the long ladder to motojournalist success and riches.

Your journalism instructor will tell you to write short sentences and short paragraphs. You can, at your option, ignore that wisdom and write long, elegant sentences and dense 500-word paragraphs.

Editors will ignore your work. Your dreams will crumble to dust. You'll forget your bike. Frustrated, embittered, you'll drink cheap beer and smoke generic cigarettes. Your teeth will turn brown, your fingernails yellow. You'll develop a taste for accordion music. Your dog will leave you.

Better to write short sentences.

What to write about? Write about something you feel strongly about. Say what you think. Try to put your fear aside.

Use the positive voice. Be sure the reader can tell to whom each pronoun refers. Read Elements of Style and follow its charming dictates. Learn the difference between "its" and "it's."

Use your thesaurus to find simpler words, not words that drive readers to their dictionaries. Avoid Latin phrases. Know what the words you use mean: Don't say "infamous" when you mean "famous."

Before you submit your piece, read it aloud to yourself or someone who'll sit still long enough to listen. If you stumble as you read, rewrite that phrase or sentence until you can read it smoothly.

Then ask someone to sit at your computer and read your piece to you. If that person becomes confused or stumbles as she reads, rewrite that part. Root out rough places.

If you confuse your reader, or make your reader backtrack to reread some section of your piece, you will lose that reader. You have to lead the reader through your ideas step-by-step or risk losing him.

Unless you're Stephen King, you have to use email. If you type pieces and fax or mail them in, overworked editors know that someone will have to retype those stories to publish them. My guess is: No one will bother to read them.

If you hate technology, if you think email is the devil's inkwell, write for some anti-technology 'zine. Don't be surprised when they ask you to email them your articles.

I've found that attaching pieces to email notes is nearly as bad as faxing them. No one wants to open attachments in this super-virus age. Put your piece in the body of your email.

Write short. Editors seldom say: Make this longer. I recall submitting a 1250-word column and being told I had to make it fit an 850-word space. How can I?, I cried. I'll rip the guts right out of my piece!

But I did it, and the story lost almost nothing. I was amazed but I'd learned a powerful lesson. Writing long is lazy. It's for the writer, not the reader. Resist going longer than 1,000 words, and 850 is probably better.

You have a sliver of your reader's time and focus. Going long means you feel you can hold his attention as you leisurely develop your ideas. Movie-makers spend $100 million to hold our attention for 90 minutes.

If, despite my warnings, you do go long, your editor will shorten your piece. Takes an experienced editor about 40 seconds. Often they simply lop off what won't fit in the space. If you want your piece to end where you wrote END, play it safe: Write short.

Where to send your work? Do you belong to a motorcycle club? Start with your club newsletter. The editor will almost surely run your stuff. You'll be thrilled and encouraged to take the next step, to no-cost regional publications like San Francisco's CityBike. They too will be excited to read your pieces and perhaps publish them.

National magazines have complimentary subscriptions to those regional ones. Classy national-level editors read the regionals or scan them at least. You could catch an editor's eye.

Continue writing for your club paper and regional magazine. One month you'll come up with something you feel might be perfect for Motorcyclist or Cycle World or one of the other monthlies. Email it to the editor. Remember to breathe.

Do not expect a prompt reply. Those editors are sorely overworked, one and all, simply too busy to attend to inessentials like returning phone calls or email queries and dealing with persistent, irritating writers.

If since you submitted the piece, your son or daughter has gone off to college and medical school, finished a residency, set up a successful practice and invested in a professional sports franchise, and you have still not heard from that editor, send another email.

These things take time.

If you hear from the editor that your piece has been accepted, you are on your way. Months later, when that first national magazine check arrives, take your long-suffering loved ones for a celebration dinner.

Do it right. Don't look at the prices. Hell, Supersize if you want.

November 1st: Riding, not Driving

I've been writing (perhaps obsessively) about riding instead of driving, especially since Tamar and I moved to Denver. Riding for transportation, especially with the aid of public transit, is a practical option here. Lots of people do it, even people who commute from the suburbs.

My friend Corey, from San Antonio, helps me edit my pieces. Two heads, as they say...or even three, including my buddy David from Seattle. When you see one of my columns online or in a magazine, Corey and David have read it and fed me back. Their thoughtful comments are often reflected in what you read.

In response to my serial emails whining about how difficult it is to inspire cyclists to get out of their cars and ride their bikes back and forth to club rides, Corey writes:

Yeah, it's even worse here in Texas than in places like California (and Colorado?). When they build shopping malls, they assume that you will DRIVE from store to store, not walk. No one goes anywhere unless they are behind the wheel.

They park their SUVs at Home Depot and go inside. leaving the car locked - but running - in the parking lot, so it will be nice and cool when they return. WTF?! Really a weird mindset. Let's not even get into the "what are we doing in Iraq/reliance on foreign oil" part of the equation.

If you told these people that if they turned their cars off when they ran their errands, it might save the life of some serviceman or woman,would they shut 'em down, or just shrug? Lazy and selfish, that's what we've become, with a big sense of entitlement to boot.

There; I'll step off the soapbox now. your friend, Corey

I sincerely don't want to pick on Texas here. I like Texas and my Texan friends. I suspect that the thoughtlessness Corey describes is not particular to any one place in this Great Land. Just as he says, we are, many of us, lazy and selfish and feeling undeservedly entitled. As an antidote, I'd respectfully suggest riding your bike. Just a thought...